Alternative Histories of the White Cube: European Modernism and Mediterranean Vernacular
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Huet, Jacobe Isha
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CitationHuet, Jacobe Isha. 2022. Alternative Histories of the White Cube: European Modernism and Mediterranean Vernacular. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation investigates historical formulations of the white cube as a link between European modernism and Mediterranean vernacular. Architectural history consistently presents white and cubical modernist designs as resulting from the gradual erasure of ornaments as marks of pastness. The first two chapters of this dissertation shift this paradigm by reframing the historical appearance of bare volumes as resulting not only from the removal of ornament but also from the introduction of Mediterranean vernacular as a shared modernist reference. For this purpose, this dissertation locates the origin of white and cubical designs by seminal architects Adolf Loos (1870-1933), Marcel Breuer (1902-1981), and Le Corbusier (1887-1965) in their encounters with vernacular buildings in Mediterranean countries. Upon their return to Northern Europe, they re-introduced the white façades, flat roofs, and modularity they observed in Greek island villages and North African medinas into their own architectural proposals. This first pair of chapters argues that these architects’ designs for modernist white cubes stem from a primitivist gaze upon the work of vernacular builders.
Parallel this demonstration, the third and fourth chapters of this dissertation measure this modernist gaze against discourses formulated by localized Mediterranean figures invested in vernacular traditions. These protagonists of agency critically responded to modernists’ appropriation of Mediterranean built patrimonies. They include the Palestinian ethnographer Tawfiq Canaan (1882-1964), French-Algerian novelist Akli Tadjer (b. 1954), and French-Algerian artist Kader Attia (b. 1970). These alternative figures also approached the white cube as the location of encounters between tradition and modernity, yet on their own terms and as an instrument for self-determination rather than fetishization. Their dissentient gestures conclude this dissertation’s narration of the white cube through a 180 degrees reversal, from primitivist object to expression of grassroots agency. The overall structure of this inquiry is thus a full circle: first examining how European modernist architects approached Mediterranean vernacular, then investigating how localized Mediterranean figures countered this modernist vision. This dissertation concludes with methodological reflections on reciprocity in transcultural architectural objects.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37372379
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